I'm in need of some legal counsel surrounding intellectual property, and was not sure where to start. I'm hoping someone here may have some insights or be able to point me in the right direction, as I'm sure many folks here have dabbled in fan projects in the past based in the Aliens universe.
I've been working on a card game for some time now, inspired and themed after my favourite film: Aliens. I don't want to go in to too much detail, but it is a game based upon USCM missions onto distant worlds, where human outposts have been overrun by Xenomorphs. This game is card only, featuring no board or dice at this stage. Players will explore outposts and surrounding facilities, searching rooms one by one by way of expending resources of time and command points. There are objectives to complete, and survivors to rescue. Combat is tactical and survival based and, though there are elements of luck involved, I've tried to balance it so that intellect, memory and strategy weighs in more heavily than luck in order to achieve victory. I put lots of time into this concept, and used lots of probability calculations and statistics to balance gameplay. It has been in the play testing phase for some time now, and I believe plays well. Now, the real issue...
I understand that this game concept treads on the toes of intellectual property concerns. How much, I do not know. I'm a dunce at law, and I've tried just looking up info. But I think I need advice specific to my particular case. At this stage, I have no concept art to go on the game cards. I use no names of characters from the film, nor locations. I reference things like USCM and Xenomorphs, chestbursters and motion trackers. However, none of these terms are copyrighted, insofar as I know.
I'm ready to take my idea to the next level, which is graphic design (I'll contract a comic artist to do this for me). Then I intend to raise funds for manufacture. However, I'm not going to take these steps until I know that I'm not going to get sued or issued letters of cease and desist or - worse - have my game seized by Disney. So here is my question: how much of the film can I reference textually and graphically? Terms like Xenomorph I believe are safe, but I'm not sure about things like USCM, Pulse Rifles, Smart Guns, even Atmosphere Processors. Obviously the graphics and art are a big concern.
I would really love to make this project directly themed to my favourite film, and pay fan service to that work of cinematic art. However, in the worst case scenario, I'm prepared to modify the design and names of things so that it is similar only. Burst Rifle guns, Auto cannons, Space Force Marines, (*jokes*), and have my own "Xenos" designed.
Looking forward to input/feedback/advice. I have also considered that, at some time, I may have to petition Disney for support (I believe they bought all rights to the franchise). However, with no funds or legal knowledge, I really can't see them being interested or inclined to grant permission.
Cheers and thanks.
Basically the second you brand it with "Aliens", "Alien", etc. you're infringing on copyrights and trademarks and it's entirely within people's power to shut you down and sue you.
You can call things Pulse Rifles and Atmosphere Processors, but if they also look exactly like the games and existing merchandise, you're back into infringement territory. There's probably enough grey area in even just using too many of the terms together in one project for people to let it slide if they're particularly litigious.
Making your own home brew is the only safe bet.
I'm aware there will be branding issues. I was thinking of branding in a manner that is not directly entitled Aliens or such. Rather, something that alludes to the movie. Something clearly related as a side concept, which used no characters or locations from the actual film. I know this is grey area, and that IP theft issues hinge on material that even resembles film content.
There are many AVP books and fan work out there, some of which borrow heavily from the original films. I was wondering how these creative works were green lit, and if permissions needed to be granted first, or are there ways to 'borrow' from source material in a minor enough way so as to get around it. Maybe someone has experience here. For example, I know there is a concept called 'sampling', where you are allowed to take samples of a creative work for reproduction, as long as it is limited to a certain degree.
Any help, advise or knowledge would be appreciated. Cheers!
All works which use copyrighted terminology from the alien, predator or avp franchises and are sold at retail are either commissioned by, or under license from the copyright holder, which is currently Disney.
So, if you want it to be avp, you need to get into some legal wrangling with the house of mouse. Honestly, probably not worth the hassle. Just make it something inspired by the franchise, with no actual connections to it, and you'll be fine.
Or if you really want to make something Alien and Predator without licencing, it's got to be not-for-profit. Otherwise you're looking at established businesses, business plans, plenty of funding, and getting an actual licence. You maybe better off approaching business advisors.
Yeah, no one wins against Disney when it comes to IP, and the cost of licensing it would be unreal: not just that, you get a green light for something like this then everything you do has to be reviewed and given the nod by the license owners (Literally everything - text, graphics, the full whack).
Honestly you're better off just changing things and making it your own original intellectual property. In a book I've published, I used the words motion tracker in an early draft, and thought it might be too on the nose so I changed the whole basis of it and changed it to sensors wired in to the ship.